The essence of my thinking and prayer this last Sunday can be summarised in one word - 'waiting'. That is the Advent theme of course - waiting for the Birth of the Christ child.
Now imagine the challenge to the jobbing Vicar (there are other preachers available) - there are services that need sermons/homilies - and the theme is 'waiting'. When those services range from the All-Age through to a service of Healing and Reconciliation by way of the baptism of a tiny little boy, you might appreciate the challenge of applying the theme of 'waiting' to those environments where the 'now' is the focus. Kids want every thing right now, those in need of healing and reconciliation really don't desire a needless wait for those things and baptism is a celebration of the moment!
Actually, it isn't just the young who desire everything in the moment - it is also the case that the adult population of the West has the same outlook. Want it? But it online, now - in your jimmy-jams, in bed, over a mug of cocoa. Don't have the money? Borrow it from the internet - four clicks and your dreams can come true! Do you need the thing itself? What has that got to do with anything?
Waiting is as counter cultural as Christianity itself, so perhaps they are to be regarded as helpful bed-fellows. I confess here and now that I am not a great waiter (and I have never been a waitress). I can be impulsive and impatient - selling these things to myself as integrity of purpose and focus. That said, I convince myself weekly that wearing a dress to work is quite acceptable in 21st century Britain - but what of waiting? Why bother?
Waiting serves a number purposes as we discovered in our worship last weekend.
- we place ourselves in the right place for the right time
- we savour the anticipation of the event/moment/thing, often as a great a joy as the thing itself
- discernment finds its home in the time of waiting
- things worthy of a good wait often demand preparation (using the example of child-bearing)
Jews and Christians have waited. Always have we waited - for Messiah or for Messiah II. Waiting is a part of our DNA, and in a world where 'now' is the god (though not in the positive way that mindfulness would have us consider) it should be regarded as a miracle in its own right that both of these world faiths have held fast to that wait over millenia.
I commented at one point that there is a time of waiting which, in my modest experience, is the most blessed. My ministry places me in regular contact with those who are waiting to die - which is to say that they have recieved a terminal diagnosis with a time limited prognosis. My experience has shown me that such people, in this strange borderland between life and death, are the ones who learn the true value of 'good waiting'. The young wish away their youth and the more mature among us covet our lost youth - many of us wish away the wait, to remove the journey in favour of the destination - but those who know they are dying are those who seem to make every moment deliberate, intended, chosen, savoured and remembered. The only real commodity in our lives that grants us this 'meal' is the dish of 'waiting' and it has served as a treasured lesson to me while enjoying time with people in what others might consider the 'hard times' before their death.
We are past half-way this Advent. In our liturgically enforced wait what have we put in place for the happy day of the incarnation? Most of us will have sorted out gifts and food (except me, I grant you) but what will we have done to prepare for the Guest of Honour? Have we waited well?